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What are the environmental impacts of silk?

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Silk being a protein fiber is a renewable textile material with low environmental impact compared with other fibers. Since the silkworms feed on mulberry leaves, they do not require any sort of pesticides or fertilizers to grow and thus no harmful chemicals are released in the environment.

But then the question is how does silk production harm the environment Let’s discuss them:

• Production:

The main sustainability issue in silk production is the killing of the larvae when the cocoon is boiled to extract the filament during the sericulture process which is considered unethical. About 6,600 silkworms are killed to extract 1 kg of silk fiber.

This is criticized heavily by many animal welfare associations such as PETA and rights activists. Also, there are some varieties of silk referred to as Eri silk, also called as ‘Peace silk’ wherein the caterpillars are not killed in the cocoon stage to acquire the fiber but are allowed to become moths and thus eri silk is not reeled rather it is spun.

In addition, cleaning of silk utilizes harsh chemical treatment which contributes to water pollution.

• Processing and Transportation:

Also, since silk is not produced by many countries its shipping involves the use of fossil fuel and so a large amount of energy is consumed.

The silk production is a labour-intensive job and so many times the workers are exploited and not given equal wages along with proper work environment conditions.

It is often observed that since the silkworms are fed mulberry leaves, the mulberry tree after some time loses its roots from the ground and is easily blown down. And then it becomes compulsory to cut the tree and roots are destroyed by the application of herbicides. Since the roots of the tree are strong and may pose a problem by blocking the drains.

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